23 May, 2024

What’s the Difference between a Scrum Master and a Project Manager

How does a Scrum Master differ from a Project Manager? It’s a common question, and the answer is… ‘substantially’. Let’s look at why they may seem similar and how, in fact, the roles are very different.

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Similarities between the Scrum Master and Project Manager Roles

Before we look at all the ways that Project Managers and Scrum Masters really are very different, let’s start with the overlap between the two roles.

Bot are leadership roles, where coaching their teams to get the best from them is critically important.

And, communication is a huge part of both roles.

Both have a responsibility for delivery to both schedule and quality and, in doing so, both need to identify and deal with issues and impediments to progress.

Finally, there many skills that both need to use daily, like: coaching and mentoring, facilitation, negotiation, and motivation.

Differences between the Scrum Master and Project Manager Roles

But, they have a different focus for their leadership and different ways of leading. Fundamentally, a Project Manager is responsible for the whole project, and can lead any type of project. A Scrum Master leads an agile Scrum Team: not the project.

And, while both employ coaching and facilitation as leadership approaches, Scrum Masters use coaching, facilitating, and serving their team (as a Servant Leader – see our video ) as their way of working. In many ways, a Scrum Team leads itself.

Let’s look at some more detailed comparisons. I’ll do this under 4 headings:

  1. Scope of Leadership
  2. Constituency
  3. Context
  4. Certifications and Training

Scope of Leadership

Project Managers are responsible for all aspects of a project and the eventual project success. Scrum Masters are only responsible for the work of the Scrum Team. Their focus is on the team’s efficiency and effectiveness, within the principles of the Scrum Framework. They are responsible for the conduct of the Scrum Process and for how the team works together to achieve results.

A project team will work to a plan approved by their Project Manager. The PM will often delegate team leadership to a number of Workstream leaders or Work Package Managers (who may, themselves, be Scrum Masters). They might also delegate some of their administrative responsibilities to Project Coordinators or Project Admin Officers (see our video on How to Make the Project Coordinator Role Effective https://youtu.be/Hrp_Juz6mjg)

Scrum Teams, on the other hand, are largely self-organizing and self-managing. It is the role of the Scrum Master to support, guide, and serve them, rather than ‘simply’ lead them.


A Project Manager has both an internal and an external focus – that is, their concerns encompass both the project team and the external stakeholders. A Scrum Master is mainly focused internally, on the Scrum Team. Outside the team, they liaise with a Project Manager, Architects, and the Product Owner, who have that outward focus.

This means that Project Managers need to balance Stakeholder, customer, or user interests against those of the project and the project team. On the other hand, a Scrum Master’s role is to prioritize the interests of their team. They work with the Product Owner to balance that against the PO’s focus on their customers or users.


Project Managers can lead a vast range of projects. I would say ‘all’ projects, except for my caution around absolutes. Scrum Masters, however, exist only in Scrum environments. Or, perhaps, in others that incorporate elements of the Scrum framework in their own framework, or in hybrid projects that use Scrum as part of a wider approach.

Certifications and Training

I don’t want to get into the details of all the certificates available – and we have a lot of videos that I will reference in the description. But…

The major Project Manager certifications include:

  • PMI’s CAPM and PMP
  • APM’s PFQ, PMQ, and PPQ
  • IPMA’s levels A, B, C, and D
  • PRINCE2 Fundamentals and Practitioner levels

The principal qualifications for Scrum Masters are:

  • Scrum Alliance’s CSP certifications: CSM, A-CSM, CSP-SM (Certified SM, Advanced CSM, Certified Scrum Professional SM)
  • Scrum.org’s Professional Scrum Master PSM I, II, and III

Carefully curated video recommendations for you:

What Kit does a Project Manager Need?

I asked Project Managers in a couple of forums what material things you need to have, to do your job as a Project Manager. They responded magnificently. I compiled their answers into a Kit list. I added my own. 

Check out the Kit a Project Manager needs

Note that the links are affiliated.

Learn Still More

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For more of our Project Management videos in themed collections, join our Free Academy of Project Management.

For more of our videos in themed collections, join our Free Academy of Project Management

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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